Duty First, Feelings Later


A fictional episode: There were two close friends. One of them was a Vedanti, a Hindu theologian well versed in the Vedic scriptures and ethics. A father of one of his friends died one day. The Vedanti visits his friend at his house and seeing him crying for his father’s death consoles him citing several scriptures and saying, “Soul has neither a birth nor a death, it is eternal and immortal. Just as the man changes into different clothes, so does the soul find different bodies to reside. So, there is no need for you to cry.”  A month later, Vedanti’s father died. The friend whose father had died, the previous month, pays him a visit and was shocked to see his Vedanti friend crying uncontrollably, more so than he had done on his father’s death. He reminds his friend of the advice he had offered him about the soul being immortal and all that and begs him to control himself. Vedanti’s terse response to him was, “One who died that day was YOUR father, but the one who died today is MY father.”


A true story now: I was conducting a pooja in a disciple’s home during one of my travels in America. Since my visit to his home was unique, he had invited a large number of his friends for the pooja. During the social banter after the pooja and the dinner, some of them got into discussion with me on several social and religious topics. As the midnight hour approached, slowly they started to dissipate after the customary prostrations and contributions to me. A middle aged doctor waited and approached me to introduce himself after everyone had left. He was from a village near Dharwad. As he related a few of his personal issues his voice choked often. He was the only son to his father. The parents were very poor and had struggled hard to educate their son. After taking residence in the USA, he had wanted his parents to go and stay with him. But his parents were steadfast in refusing to his request to leave their native place and go to stay with their son. So he had built a house for them at Dharwad. A couple of college students who lived nearby used to visit his parents often and had established a close relationship with them. But in reality they were crooks. They had a dirty plot. One night they had murdered the old couple, robbed all their jewelry and money and escaped! The horrendous incidence had left an indelible guilt-mark on this son who was in USA. The feeling that he could probably have avoided this, had he stayed home with them, was haunting him. The doctor felt that he had sacrificed his parents for his selfish pleasures. I had a difficult time convincing him that some things are beyond control. He didn’t quite accept my argument that such a crime could have happened even if they had stayed in his own home in Bangalore at a time when he was at work in the hospital. The guilt weighed heavily on him.


The heart is a medley of feelings and emotions. Just as heart beats are essential for the body’s health, so do the emotional beats for the life in general. When the heart beats cease, the body ceases to function. Same is true for life without feelings and emotions. Life becomes barren without them, like a desert. Within the earth, there are raging fires and cool waters as well. On the surface, hard rocks exist and so does the melting icebergs. Giving residence to all these opposing creations within itself and keeping them balanced under control, the earth rotates on its own axis around the sun forever and forever. Spurted out from unseen hands during creation, this earth has been like an unfallen sky ship. Man should learn to live like these stars and planets that travel on a determined path. If they had behaved ever so slightly like humans, this galaxy would have collapsed. If something like that ever happens it will again be a part of creation only. Annihilation is only temporary, it is never permanent! Observe the following vachana by Basavanna that is based on “Adulations to Shiva” by Pushpadanta:


aduritu pAdAghAtadiMda dhare,

bidiriduvu makuTa taagi taarakegaLu,

uduridavu kai taagi lOkaM^gaLellA!


“maheepAdAghAtAd vrajati sahasA saMshayapadam|

padaM viShNORBraamyad Buja-parigharugNagrahagaNam

muhuRdyaudausyam yAtyaniBRuta-jaTA-tADita-taTA|

jagadrakShAyai tvaM naTasi nanu vAmaiva vibhutA|”


namma kooDalasaMgamadEvaniMdu nATyavanADe|


It seems the earth shook uncontrollably when Shiva danced without restraint during the time of annihilation! When his matted hair brushed against the sky the stars and the planets blasted! The lightning speed with which his hands swept the galaxy made the entire creations to collapse! Even then, the intention of the Lord was not to destroy the universe but to preserve it for eternity (jagadrakShAyai tvaM naTasi) – so says the sacred verse, “Adulations to Shiva.” Pushpadanta praises the Lord, “It is just a superb act that You, the protector of the universe, acted the role of the annihilator” (nanu vAmaiva vibhutA).


In life, one should have the determination to rise above any kind of adversities and move on.

“aMka ODidare tettigaMge BangavayyA

kAdi gelisayyA ennanu kAdi gelisayyA|”


-says Basavanna. It is the king who gets a bad name when his soldier runs away from the battlefield. This life is a battlefield. You should not be daunted and run away from there, instead have confidence to face up to it and win. For that you need to ask for the Lord’s assistance. So Basavanna very wisely prays to God, “Fill me up with such self confidence and make me win. Otherwise You, my master, would get a bad name.”  A similar statement, “Swim and reach the shores,” came from Sri. Purandaradasa.


Each individual will get caught in dilemmas many times in his lifetime. Oftentimes, he is flabbergasted not knowing what to do. One such dilemmatic situation is Arjuna Vishada Yoga that appears in the Bhagavadgeeta. The Pandavas and Kauravas are lined up for the war in the battlefield. Arjuna takes a look at his teacher Dronacharya, his grandfather Bheeshma and other kith and kin in the enemy camp. Fond reminiscences of the pleasant times spent with them float in front of his eyes. He discards his bow depressed at the thought of gaining nothing from this battle other than pain. The charioteer, Lord Sri Krishna, while he counsels his disciple Arjuna to change his mind with 700 verses, did his opponent Duryodhana just wait on the battlefield with his 11 battalions doing nothing? This is the type of question that would haunt a person with no literary aptitude. It is difficult to convincingly convey a moralistic issue with an abstract answer. The strategy is to create an anxiety in the listeners mind so that they are eager to hear a solution. The answer narrated to such a primed mind will be grasped quickly and effectively. In fact, this technique is taught to the teachers for their use in modern methods of education. The author of the epic Bhagavadgeetha has adapted this technique very effectively. Arjuna was by no means a coward. Before then he had excelled in many a battle to his credit and earned ‘the unbeatable warrior’ title. He had entered the battlefield of Kurukshetra with extreme valour and rage. “sEnayOru BayORmadhyE rathaM sthapayamE achyuta …kaiRmayA saha yOddhavyamasmin raNasamudhyamE?” – Hey, Sri Krishna, let me first take a look if there is anyone out there who can fight me, so please take this chariot into the middle between the two armies. In response to that request, if Krishna had taken the chariot straight in front of Duryodhana, then probably there would not have been any scope for creation of Bhagavadgeetha! The author of Bhagavadgeetha creates a situation in which the chariot is brought to stand opposite to Drona and Bheeshma. The extreme sentimentality experienced by Arjuna on seeing his elders and relatives depresses him and makes him think, “Leave alone the kingdom I lost, even if I am offered the Lordship of the three worlds I cannot kill them.” (EtAnna haMtuchchAmignatOapi madhusoodhana| api trailOkyarAjysya hEtOH kiM nu maheekRutE). The reason his bow shook was not due to any cowardice on his part, but due to his moralistic conscience arising out of his reasoning if there was any sense in killing the teachers who had taught him, elders and the kith and kin who had nurtured him, all to amass the sins in plenty. He comes to a decision that living a beggar’s life was far better than killing them. His bondage to his relatives distracts him from his warrior’s commitments. As a member of the Kshatriya (warrior) clan, it was religious for him to fight them. It was also his duty. The response, “No one can kill the soul, because it neither has a birth nor has a death” just may not have sufficed in that situation. The continuation of that statement by Sri Krishna, “karmanyE vaadhikaarastE mA phalEShu kadAchana” seems more appropriate. Many people have wrongly interpreted even this verse from Bhagavageetha. To translate and say, ‘you just have a right to work, not to it’s fruits (not to expect anything in return for your work)” would not suffice. It is somewhat akin to the mistake one commits when they read, “Basava means Sin” and stop there without reading the second line which says, “withered away from you.” The next line after, “karmanyE vaadhikaarastE mA phalEShu kadAchana” from Bhagavadgeetha says, “maa kaRmaphala hEtuRBooH, maa tE sangOastvakarmaNi.” It means that an individual engages himself in a task after calculating and finding out if there is something to be gained from it and does not proceed with the task if there is nothing to be gained by it. “prayOjanamanuddhishya na maMdOapi pravaRtatE” – No fool will engage in a task that does not yield some gains. Whether there is a profit to be made or a loss to bear, if it is an essential duty one should do it. One should not sit idle diverting from the task to be performed. This is the message from the Geetha! With this meaning in mind only, Basavanna said:

“In the magic you perform, you should appear to be non-existent!”



Sri Taralabalu Jagadguru

Dr Shivamurthy Shivacharya Mahaswamiji